Biologist reports logo Allegheny River
at Freeport, PA

Smallmouth Bass Abundance Comparisons
September-July 2006

September 19, 2006- Night Electrofishing
July 26, 2006- Backpack Electrofishing

Anglers and biologists raised red flags during summer and fall 2005 over smallmouth bass populations and fishing at some locales on Pennsylvania’s major rivers systems, particularly in the Ohio and Susquehanna drainage. The flags were planted due to low overall angler catches for river smallmouth bass at selected locales. On the Susquehanna River young of year smallmouth bass exhibited disease problems with mortalities of young also reported. Low flows, low angler catches and observations such as those on the Susquehanna River suggested, to some, that smallmouth populations were in an overall tailspin. Record high water temperatures were registered in the Three Rivers of Pittsburgh, and record low catches of legal fish were recorded in the 2005 Citgo Bassmaster Classic held in Pittsburgh. The level of concern on the Susquehanna River lead to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) hosting a PFBC - Susquehanna Smallmouth Bass Symposium, and continued and/or expanded smallmouth bass adult and young-of-the-year surveys on major rivers statewide in 2005 and 2006. Preliminary reports, thus far, for the Delaware River, West Branch Susquehanna River (PFBC 2006 Biologist Report - West Branch Susquehanna River), and the Upper Allegheny River (PFBC 2006 Biologist Report - Allegheny River) show good numbers of adult smallmouth in 2006. A survey was also conducted by Fisheries Management Area 8 staff in the lower Allegheny River at Freeport, PA, for adult and young smallmouth bass in 2006.

Results of these lower Allegheny surveys in 2006 were also positive. One measure of the current status of the river smallmouth bass population comes from night shoreline electrofishing. Valid comparisons can only be made for samples from similar seasons with data used collected from July through October. The highest Total Catch per Hour from four sample years (1989, 1993, 2005, and 2006) was recorded in 2006 at 70 per hour of electrofishing. The Catch per Hour over 12 and 15 inches were second highest in 2006 behind the numbers generated in 1989. All three of these measures of smallmouth bass abundance in 2006 were higher than in 2005. Generally, angler reports from 2006 also suggest better smallmouth fishing in the rivers. This is likely from a combination of better fishing conditions and more bass available.

Gary Smith holds a pair of healthy smallmouths
Gary Smith holds a pair of healthy smallmouths

Although fishing conditions and smallmouth bass populations in each river are influenced by different environmental and biological features. Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission biologists will continue with the task of validating young of year indices to insure that predictions made about future years adult smallmouth bass populations hold true as they continue to keep tabs on Pennsylvania Bass populations.

A 15-inch smallmouth bass processed by Rick Lorson
A 15-inch smallmouth bass processed by Rick Lorson

Young-of-year smallmouth bass index

Young-of-year smallmouth bass index

As noted above, fish managers use young-of-year smallmouth bass index to provide a prediction or perspective on how future years density of older smallmouth bass may be affected. This section of the Allegheny River has been monitored for 9 years dating back to 1992. The number of young bass can give an idea of when a strong year class has established that should lead to improved fishing for bass 3 to 5 years down the road. Young-of-the-year numbers were above average for 2005 and 2006. If our indices prove valid, we can expect improved smallmouth numbers and improved fishing starting in 2008. This is not a statement to suggest to quit fishing until then, simply that if your fishing is good now it may only get better. As noted above the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is taking on additional work to evaluate the validity of this predictive tool.

Chart showing smallmouth YOY collected 1992-2006

25 inch walleye
Along with the bass, numerous walleye were collected including this one of 25 inches
40 inch musky
This 40 inch musky was also a part of the catch
-- Rick Lorson, Area 8 Fisheries Manager

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